story and photographs by Ellis Anderson
- This month - The graceful Luna lights up the lives of owners and world travelers Rick Ellis and Mary Pyles.
Rick’s father was in the Navy, so he grew up learning to feel at home in places like Panama and Hawaii. He also learned to sail from his father, who crewed for the famous Hawaiian and five-time winner of Olympic medals for swimming, Duke Kahanamoku. Rick says the Hawaiian term for Duke was “waterman,” meaning he excelled at anything having to do with the water – swimming, surfing or sailing.
Apparently, some of the Olympian’s waterman traits were transmitted to Rick. He finds being on the water spiritually soothing and says that sailing gives him a sense of control in a world where “nothing else is.”
In fact, he loves being on the water so much that he spent 25 years working on the seas as a merchant mariner. He lived on Guam for six years and on the tranquil pacific island of Saipan for another eight, calling them home when he wasn’t sailing on ships and tugboats.
In 1987, Rick was working as a ship’s carpenter on a NAVO ship that was docked in Singapore. One morning as he was on gangway watch, a spritely NAVO scientist who had just been assigned to the ship came aboard. As she came up the gangway, she was singing the theme song from the popular children’s show, “Mr. Rodgers.”
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” sang Mary, and as sort of an unspoken introduction, handed Rick the newspaper she’d been reading.
Soon after, the ship left Singapore for a 20-day voyage to East Africa. The two became friends over the next four months and when they reached the small country of Djibouti on the horn of Africa, Rick asked Mary out on a date.
The couple recount the tale of their courtship while lounging on the deck of Luna with their two small dogs, J.P. and Roscoe. They tell slightly different versions.
“Actually, she begged me to go out with her,” Rick says, looking over at Mary and smiling. “She chased me all over the ship and I couldn’t escape.” Mary just laughs. She’s heard this line before.
According to Mary, the first date consisted of a stroll around the port’s marketplace that evening and then past the port's slaughterhouses. They dined out in a small café, but the excitement wasn’t over.
“We eventually fetched up along the water on an embankment in front of the president’s palace,” Mary remembers. “Then we watched the tide go out and sat viewing all the tires on the mud bank. By the end of the evening, it was clear to us that this was the start of things to come.”
The couple married in 1991 in the Virgin Islands where Mary’s brother lived. Mary had moved from Washington DC to Waveland in 1978 to work at NAVO’s office at Stennis Space Center, so the Mississippi Gulf Coast became “home port” for Rick as well. In 1993, they bought a house on the 400 block of Carroll Avenue in Bay St. Louis. It’s still the place they call home.
The two continued to ship out as their jobs required over the next two decades. Mary finally retired in 2010, while Rick still goes to sea on occasion as a gravity and magnetics technician. Throughout their marriage, Rick has owned smaller sailing boats, ones he could managed single-handedly. He enjoys the solitude when Mary can’t go along and has been sailing solo since he was six.
Over the years he's lived on the Mississippi coast, Rick has owned a 19ft O’Day, then a 25 ft. O’Day. He restored the latter after Katrina, only to have it irredeemably smashed during Hurricane Gustav.
“I was tired of fixing boats at that point,” Rick says. “So I just cut her up in pieces and put her in the dumpster.”
He began shopping for another O’Day last year, “one that didn’t need much work.” He found the Luna, a 1974 O’Day 27 footer, online. She was a freshwater boat, kept on a Colorado lake. She also had a roomy interior for a 27 foot sailboat, with lots of headroom.
After traveling to Pueblo to inspect the boat, Rick made a second trip out west, this time with a friend, and purchased Luna. The two men trailered the boat across country back to the coast, a three-day drive.
The last night of the trip, the friends pulled into a campground in Shreveport, Louisiana. Since they were towing a boat instead of a camper, the owner seemed confused.
“My friend told the lady that we were sailing around the world and had decided to drive the first part,” Rick says.
The two friends climbed up into the trailered boat that night to sleep, and happily discovered a bottle of wine that the previous owner had tucked into the cabin as a surprise gift.
Rick prefers sailing over powerboats partly because they’re quiet and impart a peaceful feeling.
“Also, when you get on a power boat, you’re going from “A” to “B.” When you step aboard a sailboat, you’re already there.”
According to both Mary and Rick, there’s only one problem with having the boat in the Bay St. Louis Harbor.
Rick pinpoints it: “Why bother to go sailing when Bay St. Louis is the one real destination on the coast? We like the fact that all the shops and restaurants are right here.”
But since they’re both world travelers, aren't they ever tempted to retire to someplace more exotic?
“It’s a great environment here - a little funky, a lot of fun,” says Rick. “Why would we want to go anywhere else?”